Now that my winter tires are stored away and I've banished my boots to the back closet, my thoughts are turning to a summer holiday. My husband and I would like to rent a cottage for a few days, preferably near a beach where the girls can play in the sand while we read. We estimate it will cost us about $1,000 for the weekly rental, which means we better start saving quickly.
It's not too late, according to Carrie Russell, senior vice president, TD Canada Trust. With a bit of work and discipline, she says, it is possible to save enough over the next eight weeks to get out of town this summer.
The first step toward saving for your getaway is to develop a plan, Ms. Russell advises. Figure out exactly where you want to go and how much you need to save to get there. How much will you need to put aside each week to achieve your goal?
Once you've established your target, Ms. Russell recommends using the "out of sight, out of mind" strategy of saving. Set up a separate bank account for your vacation fund and have the bank automatically transfer amounts from your primary account. The best way to make contributions is on a weekly basis.
"That breaks it down into reasonable chunks," she says. Saving $75 a week over 8 weeks will get you $600. "If you and your spouse both save, that's $1,200, enough for a week at the cottage."
For those of us already on a budget, saving $75 a week may sound like a tall order. Ms. Russell has some tips on how to cut back painlessly.
"Just change the way you do a few things for the next eight weeks. It's not about punishing yourself - it's about redirecting your money."
If you usually buy your lunch at work, start brown-bagging. "It sounds really basic," says Ms. Russell, "but if you did nothing but that, you could get halfway to the lake for a few nights."
If your family often eats out at a restaurant or orders takeout, cook at home for a couple of weeks. Plan a daily menu and stick to your shopping list when you go to the grocery store. "One of the biggest challenges of being a working mom is the last-minute shopping trip on the way home," Ms. Russell, a mother of two young boys, admits. "Convenience stores and specialty stores come at a price."
Avoid going to the mall so you don't make that impulse purchase of a new DVD or pair of shoes. Just in case you do succumb to the temptation of the mall, make sure that your debit card is not connected to your vacation savings account, so you won't tap it in a moment of weakness. It also helps to add to your vacation fund at the start of a week, so you will be less likely to spend more than you have on discretionary items later on in the week.
Ms. Russell also recommends having children contribute to the family vacation. Although a portion of their allowance won't make a big dent in your holiday cost, it will help them appreciate the getaway more. "Vacations are a wonderful time for memories to be made, but all those participating should contribute."
The savings strategy only works if you are exceptionally careful about your discretionary spending choices for a few weeks. While the household belt-tightening may not be as painless as Ms. Russell suggests, it is a quick path to a significant reward.
If you turn your short-term savings plan into a long-term habit, putting away $75 a week for a year will turn into a nest egg of nearly $4,000 at the end of a year. That will get you a lot further than cottage country. As Ms. Russell says, "save for a whole year and you'll be sipping Chianti in Italy."